Government slammed on applications
Students and lecturers have blamed the Government's "botched" policies on universities for a 9% drop in total applications.
Ucas, the admission service for students, said the number of applicants to university courses has fallen from 76,612 students at this stage last year to 69,724 for courses starting in 2012.
Last November the Government published a funding plan allowing universities to charge students tuition fees of up to £9,000 starting next September.
The previous month the Treasury announced that the teaching budget for higher education, excluding research funding, would be cut by £2.9 billion, or 40%, over the next four years.
Unions representing students and lecturers claimed the figures were proof the policies were scaring off potential applicants.
National Union of Students vice-president Toni Pearce said: "The indication is that the confusion caused by the Government's botched reforms is causing young people to, at the very least, hesitate before applying to university.
"Ministers must stop tinkering around the edges of their shambolic reforms, listen to students, teachers and universities, and completely overhaul their white paper before temporary chaos turns into permanent damage to our education system."
Sally Hunt, general secretary for the University and College Union, which represents more than 120,000 academic staff in post-school education, said: "The Government's fees policy has been a disaster from the start and it is clearly having a serious impact on the choices young people make.
"These depressing figures take us back to the time when it was cost, not ability, that determined your future."
Universities and science minister David Willetts claimed the figures do not reveal "underlying trends" in university applications.